Monday, July 27, 2015

Gamification and Digital Gaming in the Classroom

When I started teaching 6th grade almost 3 decades ago, I quickly learned that if I could get a little friendly competition going, add some motivation for achievement, or add in levels of advancement to student learning, my job of teaching students became easier. Not only did students increase their knowledge, but classroom management issues were reduced, and students were happier and enjoyed school more. Until I attended an ISTE session on Gamification and Digital Gaming taught by Ryan Schaaf, I didn’t realize that Gamification is what I had been doing in my classroom for years.

Gamification is taking an element of gaming (incentives, levels, problem solving, time limits) and adding it to other experiences, like; simulations, multiplication fact learning, spelling bees, and incentives for 100% on tests, just to name a few.
Gamification can be done in any subject, and without digital devices.

Digital gaming requires digital devices, and can also be done in any subject area. Digital games are abundant and motivating for students, but the challenge comes with knowing the game your students are playing is actually reinforcing the concept you are trying to teach. Although it is time consuming, the teacher responsibility with digital gaming is to review the games students are playing.

One of the resources I received from the session from Ryan Schaaf is a link (click here) for a list of great digital gaming sites and specific concepts it is designed to teach. UEN also has a fantastic compilation of digital games (click here).

Just remember to take a few minutes to preview the activities in order to direct student learning. 

Most of all: LEARN and have fun! It's contagious!

Getting Kids Coding – Even Elementary Age Kids

I am not a coder, so I feel a little intimidated teaching coding, but here is what I can do as an elementary teacher: I can introduce kids to things they don’t yet know they love. I love that statement!

I attended a motivating session at ISTE called “Programming at All Ages” taught by Kristopher Velez (goes by Linus). I could tell by his presentation that he loves coding and he loves teaching coding to students at the American School of Bombay.

Here are some misconceptions of programming he is working to change:

Misconception #1 - Programming is just for people who want to get into computer science. Truth: Anyone can learn the basics of programming, which will only heighten their value as an employee.

Misconception #2 – I am a girl and programming is for guys. 
Truth: Until typical stereotypes set in, girls show as much interest and aptitude for programming as boys do. In 1945, girls were thought to be better at programming and boys at algorithms. The woman shown below, Ada Lovelace, worked on early computers and programming in the 1800s.

Misconception #3 – Programming is mostly math. 
Truth: Programming is mostly problem solving.

As an elementary age teacher, I know enough to get kids started and interested in coding. My first experience in coding was encouraging and helping teachers participate in “Hour of Code” this past December, and it was such a positive experience for me, teachers, and students that it has changed my view of coding.

Here are just a few coding resources available to give kids of all ages an engaging and fun experience with coding:

Kindergarten – 5th grade
Scratch Jr (free app)
Lightbot (free and paid apps)

I hope I have motivated you to get your students started in coding. There are resources available to help you, and very little preparation needed. If you need help or have questions, contact your Ed Tech. They would LOVE to help.

Successful Grant Writing

Did you know that there is more money available through grants than you have time to write for? In the Education world time is at a premium, but still; it’s nice to know money is available if you have a little time. Teachers always need supplies, books, computers, iPads, software, science equipment … the list is endless! But, the possibilities are endless too.

I attended a course on Grant Writing at ISTE that was taught by Cheryl Abshire. Cheryl was full of motivating and practical ideas to get more money into classrooms. Here are the top 10 rules for successful grant writing:

1.     Most important. Follow the rules of the grant. There is a lot of competition and the grants that don’t follow the rules are automatically weeded out in the beginning. They aren’t even looked at.
2.     Students are #1. Share your vision of the impact this money will have on students and student learning.
3.     Know what you want and be knowledgeable about it.
4.     It’s okay to sound needy, but NOT desperate!
5.     Share what you have already worked to get and tried in your classroom, and what you have done that applies to what you are asking for.
6.     Many grants are given by corporations who are not in the education world. Make sure your writing does not contain educational jargon they might not understand. Have someone read the grant who is not in education.
7.     Use the format that the grant is asking for.
8.     Don’t submit late; it won’t be looked at.
9.     Get clarification if you have questions on the grant; call or email. Don’t be afraid to do a little positive Public Relations while you are at it.
10. If you receive the grant, make sure you share your results with the company. They may have more money to give and remember you.

There are some great resources to find grants. Our EdTech website has a page on grant writing with tips, tricks, and information of grants available found here. Cheryl Abshire also shared her website that has great helps found here.

One last piece of advice from Cheryl that I have personally found useful: volunteer to read grants. It is quickly evident what makes a proposal rise to the top.

There will be an online Grant Writing course taught through the Ed Tech Endorsement program. It starts Sept. 1 and will run through December 16. My goal as instructor is that at the end of the 8 week course, you will have a proposal ready to go and have a grant that you can apply for and receive. Information found here. (IMPORTANT: You can not register for classes yet, but will be able to shortly!)

I hope I have motivated you write a proposal and submit for a grant. You will never get money you don’t ask for.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Developing the Innovators Mindset

In George Courous’ presentation at ISTE 2015 he spoke of developing the innovators mindset and thinking in terms of what kind of learning takes place in traditional classrooms. The notion that over time, we build students to become less curious and more compliant when we should be developing strong relationships and encouraging collaboration and creation. Courous reminded that working together is best and that "…the smartest person in the room, is the room."

The Innovators Mindset is the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas. Educators that are innovators will likely be the biggest game changers in education. Teachers should ask themselves, “would you want to spend the whole day learning in YOUR classroom?”

Albert Einstein once said that “…the measure of intelligence is the ability to change." We need not just a generation of problem solvers, but of problem finders. This year in Canyons, let’s work to inspire students and find ways that technology can help open doors or make the work easier. Teaching students how to not only use, but leverage technology to their benefit is a change we must make. A 16 year old student pointed out that "…social media is like water; you can either let us drown or teach us to swim." Check out Courous’ page or follow him on Twitter @gcourous for more ideas, resources and inspiration!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Digital Zombie Avoidance

Another excellent ISTE presentation I had the pleasure of attending was about “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” by teacher, Mr. Carl Hooker. (Check out his page here.) He was as entertaining as he was informative and his message focused primarily around finding balance with technology. The idea was that people become “zombies” with their faces in their phones, too focused on what is happening in the digital world and less so on the real world around them. Hey, even walking and texting can be dangerous! 

Some of the key points of his discussion involved issues with internet addiction, modeling appropriate technology use for children, setting personal limits and even considering periods of “digital nakedness” when tech is turned off or left behind.

While this may not be a surprise to anyone, his message was one that should be shared and seriously considered as becoming part of the tech-safety we teach students. We talk so much about using caution in sharing information and “playing” with online tools that we may have overlooked the need to teach and model when NOT to use technology and how to find a healthy balance between screen-time and other activities.  Teachers, I challenge you to find ways to model and effective digital balance with your students as this is a life-skill we all need to practice!

Things To Try:
1   1.)  Limiting Locations: Pick a time/ place when technology is not to be used
2   2.)  Brain Breaks: Use a timer to track device use
3   3.)  Digital Diet: Example- No Tech Tuesdays

4   4.)  Limit Interruptions: Turn off non-essential notifications